GOOD FOR GRAPES

IN THIS HUM­BLE PROVINCE LIES A MUL­TI­TUDE OF VINE­YARDS GROW­ING THE PLUMPEST, JUICI­EST GRAPES IN THE COUN­TRY. IT ISN’T JUST THE SURFERS AND TOURISTS WHO LOVE THE LA UNION SUN, AF­TER ALL

F&B World - - NEWS - Text by DENISE FER­NAN­DEZ Pho­tos by JILSON TIU

A fam­ily in La Union cul­ti­vates farm knowl­edge and coun­try­side com­fort by open­ing their vine­yard to the peo­ple

“It’s a heavy man­tle to bear but I would say that we put grapes tourism on the map for Bauang,” says Joe Ga­puz.

When driv­ing through the La Union mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Bauang, one will im­me­di­ately no­tice a num­ber of lo­cals hold­ing up signs that say, “Grape pick­ing here.” It may come as a sur­prise to guests vis­it­ing the place for the first time, but for those who have been here as early as the ’70s, grapes aren’t truly for­eign to the coun­try.

Bauang fam­i­lies have ac­tu­ally been grow­ing grapes for over 40 years now. It all be­gan when Avelino Lom­boy, dubbed the “Philip­pine Grape King,” planted 20 cut­tings he got from Cebu. It started sim­ply as a hobby, but when a lu­cra­tive op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self, he shut down his pig­gery to fo­cus on grapes. For a cer­tain time, as much as 90 per­cent of the coun­try’s sup­ply of grapes came from his farm. Even­tu­ally, he shared ex­tra cut­tings with var­i­ous clans across the town. Among the fam­i­lies he taught them to prop­erly foster vine­yards were the Ga­puzes.

Danny Ga­puz, the owner and farm­ing tech­ni­cian of Ga­puz Grapes Farm, was told by his father that his fam­ily would try their hand at grow­ing grapes back in the ’80s. He has been look­ing af­ter the fam­ily vine­yard for over 30 years; his prop­erty now span­ning around 2.5 hectares with an es­ti­mated 75 per­cent ded­i­cated to gra­nary and the rest for other pro­duce like drag­on­fruit. Danny also sup­plies cut­tings not just to Bauang na­tives but also to var­i­ous prov­inces na­tion­wide.

Aside from the scorch­ing heat of the area (grapes ac­tu­ally thrive in hot weather), the se­cret be­hind main­tain­ing the vine­yards ac­tu­ally lies in the tim­ing, says Joe Ga­puz, Danny’s youngest brother, who also han­dles the so­cial me­dia mar­ket­ing of the busi­ness. The rea­son it’s much eas­ier to grow grapes out­side trop­i­cal coun­tries is that there are fewer storms in places like the US or Italy. Danny prunes the over­head-type vine­yards every three months and uses only or­ganic fer­til­iz­ers made out of sea­weed. The fam­ily does not plant grapes dur­ing the rainy sea­son due to the abun­dance of typhoons. Joe adds that it’s best to plant in De­cem­ber or Jan­uary. In turn, har­vest­ing pe­ri­ods come thrice every year—April to the end of May (with May be­ing the best time to har­vest), July to Au­gust, and De­cem­ber to Jan­uary. Joe, an OFW who lives in the US, makes sure to visit his home­town dur­ing har­vest sea­sons to greet tourists who come to Ga­puz Grape Farms and mar­ket his own lit­tle project for the fam­ily busi­ness.

When asked if he con­sid­ers his clan the pi­o­neers in the Bauang grape in­dus­try, Joe says. “It’s a heavy man­tle to bear. But I would say that we put grapes tourism on the map for Bauang.”

It was Joe who con­sis­tently tried to spread the word through so­cial me­dia, be­gin­ning in the Friend­ster era when he at­tempted to in­vite on­line con­tacts to pay the fam­ily farm a visit. Their of­fi­cial Face­book page, which started out with only 30 likes, grew to a whop­ping 34,000 fol­low­ers. On­line, Joe tagged back­pack­ers and

The coun­try has been grow­ing

grapes for decades now, and yet not many peo­ple are aware of it. Per­haps it’s

be­cause the grapes from La Union barely reach the city, with most of the stock be­ing hoarded up north

tapped com­mu­ni­ties in­ter­ested in living the pro­vin­cial life: turn­ing phones off, swing­ing on ham­mocks under the shade of over­head grapevines. Joe calls it “The Porch Life,” cit­ing the hakuna matata phi­los­o­phy as the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind it.

“I want peo­ple to feel safe and wel­come, like they’re fam­ily or a big barkada,” he says. “We aren’t strict here; chill lang. When they visit the farm, it’s com­pletely free of charge, save for the grapes they wish to pick. The idea be­hind this comes from my fam­ily grow­ing up in a quiet life in the province.”

The farm it­self is run by the fam­ily, with Danny over­see­ing all op­er­a­tions, Joe man­ag­ing mar­ket­ing and so­cial me­dia, and a hand­ful of their cousins help­ing out with lo­gis­tics, on­line pro­mo­tions, and sched­ul­ing of vis­i­tors. Other than grape pick­ing, which goes for P400 per kilo, they also of­fer boo­dle fights for P1500 for 10 peo­ple. This vine­yard ex­pe­ri­ence was Joe’s so­lu­tion to the drop­ping value of grapes.

The park­ing area is usu­ally filled with cars on week­ends, and the vine­yards are brim­ming with tourists ea­gerly cut­ting down grape bun­dles from the vines. Sashay­ing around the farm’s premises is a giant Brahma chicken called Gorgeous Ge­orge, a gift from a Ger­man vis­i­tor. When not tend­ing to the vine­yards, Danny can of­ten be found on his ham­mock, tak­ing in the fresh Bauang at­mos­phere. Farm per­son­nel are all wel­com­ing and more than happy to teach vis­i­tors how to har­vest. Usu­ally, af­ter sched­uled boo­dle fights, Joe takes guests to the nearby beach to ei­ther surf or have a drink.

The coun­try has been grow­ing grapes for decades now, and yet not many peo­ple are aware of it. Per­haps it’s be­cause the grapes from La Union barely reach the city, with most of the stock be­ing hoarded up north, in Baguio, or in neigh­bor­ing towns.

To this, the Ga­puzes ad­vise to just pick the grape your­self.

A walk-in farm guest and her bas­ket of grape har­vest.

An­other part of the Ga­puz’s vine­yard—sched­uled for har­vest in a few months— that was newly wa­tered by Danny just be­fore the sun be­gan to set.

(Op­po­site page, clock­wise) The vine­yards of Ga­puz Grapes Farm; Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, grapes ac­tu­ally thrive in heat; The Ga­puz fam­ily usu­ally sup­plies grape plant cut­tings to other fam­i­lies who wish to give the vine­yard busi­ness a try; Danny Ga­puz (left) and Joe Ga­puz (right) are two of the many sib­lings who grew up on in­come from grape farm­ing.

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